T.B. Williams, «Reading Social Conflict through Greek Grammar: Reconciling the Difficulties of the Fourth-Class Condition in 1 Pet 3,14.», Vol. 26 (2013) 109-126
For the most part, it is assumed that in the Koine period the fourth-class condition indicated a future contingency with a possible or, in many cases, only a remote chance of fulfillment (e.g., “if this could happen”). If this meaning is applied to the condition in 1 Pet 3,14, it seems to imply not the reality of suffering, but merely the remote possibility, which is at odds with the popular understanding of the epistle’s social situation. This study is an attempt to examine the meaning of the fourth-class condition in 1 Pet 3,14 and its function(s) within the larger Petrine argument, a task which not only sheds light on the interpretation of 1 Pet 3,13-17, but also provides the unity of the epistle with some much-needed substantiation.
Reading Social Conflict through Greek Grammar 111
that require attention. The first involves the reality of Christian suffering.
Over the years, commentators have debated the meaning (and function)
of the fourth-class condition in 1 Pet 3,14a (and 3,17). At issue has been
the degree of probability—high or low—communicated by the form and
how it is to be interpreted in connection with the readers’ suffering. As
mentioned above, during the early-20th century it was the assumption
of many interpreters that the fourth-class condition indicated a future
contingency with a possible or, in many cases, only a remote chance of
fulfillment. In order to reconcile this assertion with the descriptions of
suffering found later in the epistle (e.g., 1 Pet 4,12-19; 5,9), a composite
document was commonly envisaged4.
What is significant about these partition approaches is that, despite
being abandoned by modern scholarship, they continue to set the agenda
within Petrine studies. This is evident in the fact that the fourth-class
condition continues to be approached through the same process of
inquiry that has been employed for many decades. The question that most
interpreters tend to pose of this construction is whether it contradicts
the (assumed) reality of the readers’ present suffering5. When assessing
the degree of probability represented by the form, scholastic views have
thus spanned the entirety of the potentiality spectrum. There have been
some interpreters who, because of what appears to be clear evidence of
suffering elsewhere in the epistle, have placed a much greater emphasis
on the likelihood of the condition’s fulfillment6. On the very opposite
This type of partition approach, which was first introduced by J.H.A. Hart (The First
Epistle General of Peter [The Expositor’s Greek Testament 5; London 1910] 3-4), and later
popularized in the work of E.R. Perdelwitz (Die Mysterienreligion und das Problem des
I. Petrusbriefes. Ein literarischer und religionsgeschichtlicher Versuch [RVV 11/3; Giessen
1911] 12-16), became very common in the early-twentieth century (so, e.g., H. Windisch,
Die Katholischen Briefe [2nd ed.; HNT 15; Tübingen 1930] 82; J.W.C. Wand, The General
Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude [WC; London 1934] 1-3; C.F.D. Moule, “The Nature and
Purpose of I Peter”, NTS 3 [1956-57] 1-11; F. Hauck, Die Briefe des Jakobus, Petrus, Judas
und Johannes [NTD 10; Göttingen 1957] 36; J. Schneider, Die Briefe des Jakobus, Petrus,
Judas und Johannes: Die Katholischen Briefe [9th ed.; Göttingen 1961] 41; A.R.C. Leaney,
The Letters of Peter and Jude: A Commentary on the First Letter of Peter, a Letter of Jude
and the Second Letter of Peter [CBC; Cambridge 1967] 8; F.W. Beare, The First Epistle of
Peter: The Greek Text with Introduction and Notes [3rd ed.; Oxford 1970] 25-28; et al).
Even recent commentators still feel compelled to defend the reality of suffering in
this verse (so, e.g., P.J. Achtemeier, 1 Peter: A Commentary on First Peter [Hermeneia;
Minneapolis 1996] 230; D.P. Senior, 1 Peter [SP 15; Collegeville, MN 2003] 94; T.R.
Schreiner, 1, 2, Peter, Jude [NAC; Nashville 2003] 171).
Based on the consideration that “the phrase εἰ καί (“even if”) can describe a condition
either already fulfilled or most likely to be,” Achtemeier argues that, “the optative πάσχοιτε
(“you suffer”) has an implication here other than remote potentiality” (1 Peter, 230).
He suggests, instead, that the optative is employed to describe a “sporadic reality” (231;
emphasis added). In support of his thesis that εἰ καί can denote either a condition that has